By Scott McLennan
This is a band as capable of being as spry and unpredictable in its 12th year as it was in its first.
Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Orpheum Theater, Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 at the Orpheum Theater in Boston
The Tedeschi Trucks Band capped a banner year for itself with a run of four concerts in Boston that encapsulated the fresh creative spirit surging through this group’s work.
It’s not simply that the band drew heavily from the 24-song I Am the Moon project it released across four albums this year. The Tedeschi Trucks Band also broke away from familiar patterns, and the result is that it exceeded expectations that have grown around the troupe over the course of its career. What was on display was a band as capable of being as spry and unpredictable in its 12th year as it was in its first.
The big difference, of course, is now we have a group that’s even more confident in its abilities, and that is drawing enormous amounts of inspiration from members who came on board recently and contributed to the creation of I Am the Moon.
The essential framework that Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, the husband-and-wife guitar tandem that formed the group after dissolving their solo bands, used to create this 12-piece rock and soul orchestra remains in place. But the pair have made it their artistic mission to keep this big band nimble and relevant on its own terms. There is no interest in simply maintaining the band as an extension of the classic rock and blues outfits that continue to influence it.
The band is clearly proud of where it came from. At its third Orpheum concert, TTB paid homage to the Allman Brothers Band, which Trucks played in for 14 years, with a stellar rendition of “Stand Back.” The group later wove ABB classic “Blue Sky” into a lengthy stretch of jamming during a cover of Derek and the Dominos’ “Anyday.” At that same show, Tedeschi was transported back to her days as a rising blues star on the Boston club circuit when she started belting out Hound Dog Taylor’s “Give Me Back My Wig” as the way to close out a version of TTB’s own new revival blues tune “So Long Savior.”
Because there is so much new material mixed with the old, TTB has self-consciously set about creating a distinctive sound. Familiar tones and textures ultimately give way to a clever mix of accessibility and experimentation.
TTB has been ending its touring year at the Orpheum (and Boston’s House of Blues before that) for many years. Tedeschi’s family, friends ,and longtime followers of her career (vocally) are in attendance. This year Trucks’s father was seated in his comfy chair setup by the soundboard. The band typically uses the run to deliver a “State of the TTB Union” address, reviewing and revisiting highlights from the previous year or cooking up special treats such as mini-acoustic sets or guest sit-ins. And loyal attendees have come to anticipate that the last show of the series will be the “Big One”: full of screaming solos, Tedeschi engaging in all manner of vocal acrobatics, and the horns, singers, and drummer playing in overdrive all night.
This year, in line with the band’s very intentional reset, the fireworks seemed more evenly spread across the series of shows. The finale definitely ran longer than its predecessors, but each night saw the band scaling as high as could be expected without any (seeming) holding back.
The initial set of the first show included a complete reading of Crescent, the first album released as part of the I Am the Moon project, punctuated by an incendiary version of the instrumental “Pasaquan” that stretched to nearly 20 minutes, driven by Trucks’s otherworldly guitar soloing. On this tune Trucks asserts his own stylistic voice and artistic direction as he goes toe-to-toe with such influences as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Duane Allman.
As strong as Trucks was throughout that night, every member of the band seemed to be playing a key role in the overall success of the performances. Drummers Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady were especially noteworthy, injecting all sorts of accents and flourishes, particularly into the newer songs, which continue to grow in heft as concert pieces.
The Derek and the Dominos classic “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” was given a fresh read thanks to Elizabeth Lea’s trombone solo, and trumpet player Ephraim Owens lit up “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” with a brilliant opening solo.
The third show of the series coincided with Prince William and Princess Kate’s visit to Boston and their meet-up with President Joe Biden. Those goings on might have inspired a show that was packed with socially conscious songs: critical of the status quo but yearning for a more hopeful future. “Signs, High Times,” “Shame” (Trucks nimbly interpolated Coltrane’s “Resolution” into a passage of improvisation), and “It’s So Heavy” were second-set gems that thematically hung together. And Tedeschi turned the Bobby Bland hit “I Pity the Fool” into a full-force gale admonishment of all the fools who keep people divided (Sue may have been looking at you, Kanye).
The TTB’s final concert of 2022 was majestic from start to finish. If Night Three was about chasing the muse, Night Four was all about the craftsmanship and commitment needed to make beautiful, uplifting art.
The band played eight songs from the I Am the Moon albums; “Playing with My Emotions” and “Gravity” were accorded the kind of expansive and exploratory performances that songs in the TTB repertoire for 10 or more years get. Conversely, old chestnuts, such as “Part of Me” and “Midnight in Harlem,” were approached with fresh eyes and ears, juiced up with surprising interludes and passages.
While covers of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Harry Styles’s “Sign of the Times” were interesting flavors to bring to the musical feast, the band’s originals provided the real main course, especially a frenetic version of “Yes We Will,” which does double duty — it is a plea to save the planet and a homage to B.B. King.
Tedeschi and Trucks were performing at an inspired level all night, but every member of the band had their standout moments, underscoring the principle that TTB is foremost an ensemble. The vocalists who provide wonderful harmony and color were each given spotlight turns: Mark Rivers on an encore read of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” Alecia Chakour with “Part of Me,” and Mike Mattison leading the rollicking blues “Everybody’s Got to Change Sometime.” The horns punched up songs all night and dazzled through a ripping encore of the R & B gem “Show Me.” Bassist Brandon Boone delivered a monster solo in the improvisational expanse that links TTB’s “The Storm” to a cover of the Allmans’ staple “Whipping Post.” And keyboard player Gabe Dixon was outstanding in whatever role he hopped into — soloist, vocalist, accompanist — and was particularly touching when performing “Soul Sweet Song” the tribute he helped pen to TTB’s original keyboard player Kofi Burbridge, who died in 2019.
Before the world had ever heard of Covid, the Tedeschi Trucks Band had announced it was taking time off to figure out its next moves. The period of isolation — along with the impacts of the ensuing pandemic and societal shutdown — obviously led the band to undertake bold and reinvigorating work. And that creativity has fed right back into how this band interacts on stage.
The TTB’s final shows of 2022 felt very much like the beginning of a new phase for this celebrated band.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.